Many people are quick to judge when they see homelessness.
"He's just lazy."
"She must be a drug addict."
"They are just mooching off of the government and everyone else."
The church I attend puts a lot of effort into homeless outreach. The goal of the ministry is simply to earn the privilege of hearing people's stories. We are discouraged from preaching, judging or anything else that would push people away. Through this ministry I got to know a guy named Greg. Greg came with a recognizable smell, dirty clothes, and shaggy hair. If I am honest, I would have would have been intimidated by his appearance and avoided him in previous years.
Lucky for me I didn't avoid him this time. I got to know Greg. I got to know his story. Greg had experienced more than his fair share of pain, rejection, and plain bad luck. Greg wasn't perfect but the thing about him was he seemed to understand something most of the world cannot seem to grasp.
Greg had contagious joy.
Greg had every excuse in the book to not have joy. Greg suffered from serious health conditions. He had seizures that would spontaneously come on and cause serious injuries. He couldn't be employed because of the frequency of this but it took him a long time to get on disability. While he waited he was homeless. He didn't have family in the area so he lived on the streets or in shelters.
Greg needed to walk with a walker and experienced debilitating pain. Yet he got connected at the Mission Church. He said that people there respected him and made him feel like he mattered. Because of this Greg would walk in pain with his walker across town to attend our church.
We were lucky he did.
When Greg finally got on disability he was able to get an apartment. It was run down. There were stains and it had a smell almost as strong as Greg's but he was ELATED!!!! He had nothing. His belongings fit into a back pack but now he had an apartment. When it rained he was going to stay dry. When it was freezing he could stay inside. Did he have a couch or a bed or a TV? No. Greg felt like the luckiest man alive.
Years went by and Greg accumulated a few more things. He felt very fancy with his stained, run down chair. He invited people over all the time because he felt like he had soo much to share. He felt like he had so much wealth.
Greg passed away this weekend due to his health conditions. I will truly miss this man. I couldn't help but smile or laugh when I was with him. He loved authentically. He knew how to appreciate life and not compare himself to others. He considered himself blessed.
His way of looking at life often convicted me. He got it. It wasn't about stuff. When will we get this!!! Stuff doesn't make us happy. If you struggle with depression stuff cannot fix that! Greg had joy and to US standards he had nothing and the nothing that he had most people would consider smelly junk.
I hope that in his death people can learn from him. I hope I can learn from him. This is a lesson I too quickly forget. It's all about perspective. He didn't have health. He didn't have money but he had relationships. Therefore in his mind, he had everything.
Joy cannot be found in stuff.